Every night, as we settle down to read books before bed, I find myself flanked by my two kids, who are clutching any available flesh they can find. I'll be honest: it’s hardly a struggle. After two babies and a less than strict diet regimen, there’s a bit of it to go around. My toddler particularly likes to grab a chunk of my mid-section and squeeze it in his fist like a mound of silly putty while listening to a story. He never had a favorite sleeping toy, so sometimes I think my fleshy body takes its place.
In these moments, I’m reminded that they hold onto me so tightly because they love me and want to be as close to me as possible. So they snuggle into my body, which happens to be softer than it used to be, but they are none the wiser. To them, my body is not good or bad. It is just a body. I remind them often that it’s also the body from which they came. So I refuse to openly criticize my stretch marks or belly rolls in front of my kids. Instead, I try to own them.
While we snuggle in bed, they run their tiny fingers along the right side of my belly, where deep lines still remain from my second pregnancy. My daughter remembers when the marks were formed during my third trimester, when my son’s rump was firmly planted there and didn’t want to budge. I placed her hand on that spot and she felt him press into it, her mouth agape. She was shy about feeling him move in there, but this was a moment she clutched onto. It was the moment she realized: there’s really someone in there and soon, he will be part of our lives.
I never had stretch marks with my daughter. I had horrible nausea throughout my entire pregnancy, so I could barely keep down water, let alone fruits and vegetables or full meals. I barely looked pregnant until the very end. Around six months, I had what resembled a small beer belly, and around eight months, I was able to wear the one pair of maternity pants I had purchased.
My second pregnancy was much easier, thanks to medication to treat my nausea. When the stretch marks appeared on my belly, seemingly out of nowhere, they didn’t bother me. They felt meaningful and important. When I rubbed cream on my stomach each night to soothe my itchy round belly, the idea of finding a product that would remove the lines on my stomach didn’t occur to me. And it hasn’t occurred to me since. These lines remind me of how hard I fought for my children to come into the world unscathed. They remind me of how many long days I spent hunched over the toilet, counting the minutes until they were here.
I try to let my kids see me sweat and move and stretch and eat and model self-love. They don’t see me hide myself away. They see me love and nourish my body because it’s good for me, but also because I hope they treat their own bodies with that much kindness.
My stretch marks are not something to be ashamed of, and they aren’t something to hide. So I let my children see my body for what it really looks like. When I’m getting out of the shower or changing my clothes, I don’t feel inclined to cover up. I am not ashamed of my body, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am. It's a powerful vessel that birthed two babies.
So when my son gives me a nightly belly rub, instead of pulling my t-shirt down and covering up my stretch marks, I whisper, “That’s from you!” He smiles a wide smile and nuzzles his nose into me, wanting to be as close as he was back then.
Like most people, I'm not totally comfortable with my body. Despite exercising daily and eating healthy, I still have wobbly bits. But looking like a 20-something, or a mom who runs 10 miles and never eats pizza isn’t going to happen for me. And I’m OK with that. My body is a reflection of how I treat it. So I try to be good to it while also cutting it some slack. In return, it’s pretty good to me.
I used to openly criticize my body, in part because I didn’t completely understand its worth. But now, as a mother, it’s harder not to see how amazing my body is. It’s accomplished so many miraculous things. So I try to let my kids see me sweat and move and stretch and eat and model self-love. They don’t see me hide myself away. They see me love and nourish my body because it’s good for me, but also because I hope they treat their own bodies with that much kindness.
I know that even if I don't love every part of my body all of the time, I can't speak ill of it in my children's presence.
Now, I’m more careful and intentional with my words, because I know that even if I don't love every part of my body all of the time, I can't speak ill of it in my children's presence. Not my stretch-marks or my belly rolls, or my thighs that rub together just a bit. Having children made me appreciate my body in so many more wonderful ways. But it also made me realize how important it is to not let your kids absorb that bodies are things to be hated.
I hope somehow, a little of that rubs off. Perhaps they will understand, sooner than I did, that there is no such thing as a perfect body. And there are far more important things than having one anyway. Either way, life's too short not to love your body. And bodies are too amazing not to be loved.